In year full of great stories, Davies' may be best

By Randall MellNovember 8, 2014, 4:21 pm

Who is writing the scripts for the LPGA this year?

Mary Higgins Clark?

In a year of suspenseful twists and turns, of compelling protagonists and surprise endings, we’ve got another dramatic final chapter brewing in the women’s game.

Laura Davies is poised to make it awfully difficult to choose the best story of the year in women’s golf.

With a 5-under-par 67 Saturday at the Mizuno Classic, Davies moved into position to make history in the final round in Japan. At 51, she’s tied for the lead and looking to become the oldest winner of an LPGA event.

“It’s going to be tough, because there are so many good players who are playing well this week, so that would be a bonus,” Davies told reporters in Japan. “Obviously, it’s a bad thing, really, because it means I’m really old, but it would be a nice thing because it would mean I have a good record.”

The women’s game doesn’t get the attention the men’s game gets, but give the women credit, they’re delivering one compelling story after another in a bid to crack the mainstream sports feeds.

There was Lexi Thompson beating Michelle Wie in a final-round duel at the season-opening major, the Kraft Nabisco. There was Wie winning in her Hawaiian hometown, and Wie holding off then world No. 1 Stacy Lewis to win the U.S. Women’s Open. There was Mo Martin fashioning a Cinderella story to win the Ricoh Women’s British Open. There was Paula Creamer emotionally returning to the winner’s circle with a monster 75-foot eagle putt to prevail in a playoff in Singapore. There was teenager Lydia Ko and Hall of Famer Karrie Webb each winning twice. And then there was world No. 1 Inbee Park beating No. 2 Lewis in a duel in Taiwan just last week.

Davies, written off by so many, might trump them all as the tour’s best story this year.

Davies will be 51 years, 1 month and 5 days old on Sunday. Beth Daniel was 46 years, 8 months and 29 days old when she won the Canadian Women’s Open in 2003 to become the LPGA’s oldest winner.

Yes, there’s a lot of work to do Sunday in Shima-Shi, Mie, Japan, but Davies ratchets up the interest in Asia, where women’s golf is more celebrated than it is in the rest of the world. Davies has claimed 84 titles internationally, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 13 years, since the Wegmans Rochester International in June 2001. She hasn’t won anything outside a senior tour event in four years, but she remains one of the most colorful figures in the game, a towering personality who was once a bookmaker’s assistant and still relishes a good bet. She used to own a racehorse, likes fast cars and hates to practice. There isn't another protagonist quite like Davies in the women's game.

Davies will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame next summer and just last month was officially christened Dame Laura Davies at Buckingham Palace in a ceremony appointing her as Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

After making it through a qualifier to play in the U.S. Women’s Open this past June, Davies was asked at Pinehurst why she still plays.

“I still think I can win,” she said. “A lot of people don’t think I can win, but I’m here this week thinking I can win the U.S. Open. There’s probably not more than a half-dozen people around the world that think that’s possible. But as long as you think you can win it, then maybe you actually can.

“That’s my driving force, to win more trophies and keep going. I love competing. If you don’t win, then try to finish second, or 10th. Do the best you can do. That’s what keeps me going.”

While Davies is relishing her entry into the World Golf Hall of Fame, she remains outside the LPGA Hall of Fame, where a strict points requirement must be met. She has 25 points and needs 27 to be inducted. A major championship victory is worth two points, a regular LPGA title worth a point. Though Davies could someday gain entry to the LPGA Hall of Fame through the Veterans Committee, she wants desperately to make it on points. Her loyalty to the Ladies European Tour might have cost her chances at getting the points needed in her prime, but she isn’t giving up on the quest.

Win or lose come Sunday, Davies’ improbable march makes for another compelling chapter in the LPGA’s storybook season.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

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McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.